Nevada Court Rules Against Temporary Injunction Of Ufc Welterweight Title Match: Penn Attorney Sites Mediation Next, Trial A Last Resort
Nevada Court Rules Against Temporary Injunction of UFC Welterweight Title Match:
Penn Attorney Sites Mediation Next, Trial A Last Resort
By Loretta Hunt
Almost four months after filing a 21-page civil action lawsuit against promoter Zuffa Sports Entertainment for allegedly stripping him of his UFC welterweight title unlawfully, BJ Penn and representation received their first preliminary ruling today from the Clark County District Court of Nevada on the matter. In a hearing that began at 9am, the Court was asked to decide upon a petition Penn’s legal counsel had submitted for injunctive relief, barring the UFC from conducting a welterweight championship bout without its client. The Court had its answer by this afternoon.
"They denied the preliminary injunction sought, which was to deny the fight with Matt Hughes and [Georges] St. Pierre being identified as a title fight," Penn’s lead attorney Steven Strauss stated calmly this evening from his affiliate offices of Raleigh, Hunt & McGarry, P.C. in Nevada. "The judge found that he had insufficient basis to make that ruling."
According to Strauss, both parties had submitted paperwork to the Courts outlining their beliefs regarding the injunctive request prior to today. "They [Zuffa] were claiming that the title was ceremonial only," says Strauss. In contrast, Penn’s representation claimed that the belt was the property of their client and that it was "meaningful, that it means something to the MMA fans, that it means something to the fighters that fight for it — that it’s not simply Zuffa’s title to take away from a fighter that earns it." In the end, Strauss says the Court decided it did not have an adequate basis to make the extraordinary request.
With this initial judgment, Zuffa may continue, unhindered, with its previously announced plans to have former champion Hughes, the fighter Penn beat last January to earn his title, and St. Pierre fight one another for the vacated UFC welterweight title on October 22nd at UFC 50. However, Strauss explains that the Court’s decision was made without prejudice, meaning the ruling itself was not final in any way, and may be revisited in the future.
In addition, and possibly of greater interest to Penn and his overall claims which are yet to be resolved, Strauss says, "The court also made a statement telling the parties, Zuffa and Penn, that he was concerned that there was evidence that BJ had been wrongfully stripped of his title and encouraged the parties to get together and resolve this." One of Penn’s main arguments remains that an exclusivity clause within his contract had expired and was never extended, leaving him free to field and take other offers outside of the UFC, even after he had won a title with the promotion. Zuffa stripped Penn of the welterweight title on May 13th, days before Penn performed in the rival promotion K-1 in Japan.
Strauss says no initial contact was made today for impending mediation, but he expects communication to be made shortly, and that there were "hand shakes all around" following the proceedings. Strauss reports that UFC president Dana White and Penn shook hands as well.
"The next step would be to follow the court’s strong recommendation and to try and resolve the dispute with Zuffa," says Strauss, "as well as prepare for trial in the event that we are unable to resolve the dispute and take the issue of wrongful stripping of the title to a jury seeking damages. Also, the court stated that he would be able to revisit any other relief that he thought was appropriate including the potential recognition of two titles." Along with introducing a potential concept that Penn’s title could be reinstated alongside whoever the UFC recognizes as its current champion, Strauss adds that the Court addressed that monetary damages, either alone or in combination of, were another viable possibility.
"Obviously, he’s disappointed," commented Strauss on Penn’s reaction to the news, "but this is one step in a process, that we expect that we will ultimately prevail in the event that there’s not a negotiated solution. The ideal solution would be for Zuffa to recognize that it’s in everyone’s best interest for BJ to fight as the champion in the UFC, which is what BJ’s been pushing for all along."
Strauss also pointed out that Zuffa has changed their initial stance regarding the title in question. "Although Zuffa had earlier threatened to sue BJ for fighting in K-1, and therefore vacating the title; they’ve abandoned that claim. Their claim now is the contract, the promotional agreement that they had with him had expired. Therefore, their claim was that there was nothing that required them to offer a title defense to a title holder, which is a very interesting argument because our position is that Zuffa is really trashing its own title."
FCF has yet to receive the official transcripts of today’s proceedings, which will be made available in the next few days. Zuffa could not be reached for comment at their Las Vegas offices.
For the time being, Strauss says he will try and adhere to the Court’s recommendation for independent resolution between the two parties, but is prepared to go to trial if that become a necessity. "I want to emphasize that there was a cordial exchange after the hearing and that this was round one. The bout’s not over."
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